Chinese photographer travels countryside with mobile portrait studio
Artist spends a year on the road, finding out who his friends are
By Chris Gill. Web only
Published online: 20 March 2013
Shanghai-based artist Maleonn (aka Ma Liang) has spent the last year (from February to November 2012) traveling around 25 Chinese provinces, photographing some of the 200,000 people in a mobile photo studio and posting the images on his Weibo account (the Chinese version of Twitter). “I became tired of contemporary art, the system, dealing with critics and curators behind closed doors. I wanted to do something with ordinary people,” Maleonn says.
He put out the idea on his Weibo account, and was overwhelmed by the response. Eventually he established a set of guidelines, such as a minimum of eight people per city, who would provide him and his team with food, somewhere to stay and a space to work. Over ten months, in a battered truck and a minivan, he then visited 35 cities around China, taking 1,600 portraits of people in contemporary Chinese society dressed up in various kinds of fantasy dress.
Having completed the huge project in China, Maleonn mused he may next be taking the roadshow to the UK. “I have friends in Swansea,” he said.
Maleonn launched the project after losing his studio in Shanghai’s Weihai Road 696 arts community, following another government eviction of artists, and also after getting divorced.
“I originally had the idea many years ago, but [was prevented by personal] circumstances, and [by the fact that] the internet system wasn’t developed enough. But this time was the time to do it. I only came back to Shanghai for two short breaks,” he says.
Following the success of his Weibo account work, Maleonn has also started writing for traditional publishers, writing books on his thoughts about life. A small documentary film team followed him over the whole period and has now begun editing. Maleonn said he had no assistance from the Weibo organisation. Weibo belongs to Nasdaq-listed Sina.com, China’s leading internet portal, and is closely controlled by the government. Several famous Chinese, such as Faye Wong, have Weibo followers in the millions. Weibo awards popular accounts with a “V” meaning VIP.
Maleonn’s overwhelming impression was how similar all the Chinese cities are: “They all look like Shanghai five years ago, tall new buildings, high street shopping malls, parks, all look the same, it was hard to find any local characteristics.” All the different subjects, from young children to old people, dressed either in their own clothes from Maleonn’s van, or brought their own outfits, with subjects ranging from tank drivers and policemen to Tang dynasty scholars. “I don’t know what the point of this is, or what will happen next, I just know I made 1,600 people very happy,” Maleonn says.
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